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Walker v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 24, 2017

JAY D. WALKER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOLIE A. RUSSO United States Magistrate Judge

         RUSSO, Magistrate Judge:

         Plaintiff Jay Walker brings this action for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his applications for Title XVI Social Security Income (“SSI”) and Title II Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act (“Act”). All parties have consented to allow a Magistrate Judge enter final orders and judgment in this case in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed and this case is dismissed.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On February 27, 2012, plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI, alleging disability as of April 1, 2011. Tr. 193-202. His applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 129-36, 139-43. On September 18, 2014, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), wherein plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified, as did a vocational expert (“VE”). Tr. 44-70. On November 14, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 19-32. After the Appeals Council denied his request for review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 1-5.

         STATEMENT OF FACTS

         Born on August 31, 1966, plaintiff was 44 years old on the alleged onset date and 48 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 50, 193. He graduated from high school and worked previously as a commercial painter. Tr. 65-66, 215. Plaintiff alleges disability due to diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and hand pain. Tr. 50-52, 214.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation and internal quotations omitted). The court must weigh “both the evidence that supports and detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusions.” Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). Variable interpretations of the evidence are insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is rational. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).

         The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the claimant must demonstrate an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected . . . to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         The Commissioner has established a five step sequential process for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. First, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If so, the claimant is not disabled.

         At step two, the Commissioner evaluates whether the claimant has a “medically severe impairment or combination of impairments.” Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment, he is not disabled.

         At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairments, either singly or in combination, meet or equal “one of a number of listed impairments that the [Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity.” Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is presumptively disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

         At step four, the Commissioner resolves whether the claimant can still perform “past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f). If the claimant can work, he is not disabled; if he cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. At step five, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national or local economy. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g). If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.

         THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         At step one of the five step sequential evaluation process outlined above, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. Tr. 21. At step two, the ALJ determined the following impairments were medically determinable and severe: “coronary artery disease with a history of myocardial infarction; hypertension; obesity; right shoulder capsulitis; and mild carpal tunnel syndrome.” Id. At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments, either singly or in combination, did not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment. Tr. 24.

         Because he did not establish presumptive disability at step three, the ALJ continued to evaluate how plaintiff's impairments affected his ability to work. The ALJ resolved that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, except that:

[he] is further limited to no more than occasional climbing of ropes, ladders and scaffolds. He is limited to no more than frequent reaching on the right, as well as frequent bilateral handling, grasping, fingering and feeling. [He] would also need to avoid concentrated ...

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